First aired on The Next Chapter (28/01/13)
Hungarian-Canadian author Tamas Dobozy's latest book Siege 13 is a collection of short stories about the Siege of Budapest. Close to the end of the Second World War, Soviet forces stormed Budapest. It took them a month and a half to force out the Nazis, and that time devastated the city's citizens: 38,000 died, and 50,000 women and girls had been raped.
"I started realizing that that period, that moment in time was incredibly fascinating and that I should explore it further," he told The Next Chapter host Shelagh Rogers in a recent interview, adding that he came to realize "it would generate endless stories ... because it's so rich." The stories not only focus on the time of the siege, but also on its aftermath, especially how the experience affected people's lives afterwards.
Dobozy has a family connection to the siege. His father lived through it by hiding in a cellar with relatives. His grandmother on his mother's side fled the country in the final days of the war, undertaking an epic road trip to Germany with her husband, a Hungarian soldier. His father would often tell him bits and pieces of the experience, said Dobozy, but never filled in the full picture, which he found stimulated his imagination.
"It was always interesting to me that you could be carrying that much memory and still be able to sort of fall into the day-to-day or the commonplace without anyone who met you knowing that these things had happened," he said. "I don't think anybody comes out of that unscathed."
He says people can't fully deny or suppress that experience, so it comes up in odd ways, like little rituals, obsessive behaviours, or a rage against disorder or instability. How people cope with that sort of baggage is what informed many of the stories in his book.
So far, Dobozy says, the response from the Canadian-Hungarian community has been positive. But he's anticipating that sooner or later, someone will step forward and tell him he got it all wrong.
Dobozy's editor told her Hungarian neighbour that he should read the book. The neighbour was immediately suspicious that Dobozy was exploiting the history of a people he did not belong to, asking if Dobozy even spoke Hungarian or had visited the country.
"So, I'm going to have to get him a copy of the book somehow," said Dobozy, who speaks Hungarian and once lived in his family's homeland.